Saturday, October 19, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Infection (Kansen) (感染) (2004)

"But he... He gets inside."

The best way to describe Infection is to call it a psychological horror mindscrew of a movie. I don't even know if the story is coherent enough to truly understand. It seems to be more focused on symbolism and interesting imagery than an actual plot. But I think that's also the point. I think it's an interesting movie, but one that is so utterly jumbled that sometimes it's more difficult to follow the psychology of the plot than just following the horror of it. As the first J-Horror Theater movie, this one is very good, giving the six movie "series" a great start. Director Masayuki Ochiai does a great job with directing, but his editor should be barred from ever editing again. It's a mess, seriously.

I went into this movie thinking it would be gory and awful to watch. I literally had to anticipate the gore effects that I really thought would be highlighting this movie, for better or worse. But this movie has very few truly gory moments to it, more lingering on characters' reactions to the offscreen gore than actual shots of gore. This is probably for budgetary reasons rather than artistic choice, but it worked well in my opinion, leaving more to the imagination and less to the eye, something that I always find effective.

Like Into the Mirror, this movie also has a focus on mirrors, to the point that this movie could have taken that movie's title and nobody would have known. I guess the idea here is that mirrors either tell the truth or give way to some alternate reality where guilt and conscience rule. And green blood. For reasons. I can't really understand the entirety of the plot or the point that they were trying to make. Sometimes these types of movies put symbolism for symbolism's sake into their movies. That could be the case here. I don't really know.

Anyway, Infection takes place at a hospital, following around a collection of nurses and doctors who are on a night shift. The hospital is overrun with patients (even though we only ever see a handful of them) and is financially sinking. Most of the first part of this movie is a medical drama unfolding, seeing how stressed these doctors and nurses are, seeing how difficult their work is, and seeing how exhaustion and the stress can lead to bad decision making.

A burned man falls from his bed, dies, is brought back to life, and then through medical error dies again, this time for good. The acting in this scene is excellent, as the doctors' both try to save one of their own by hiding the evidence of the error and bullying the nurses into accepting what they want to do to hide it. It's effective and eerie, with the whole scene playing out as if it could be pure comedy or pure sickening horror. Sometimes these things are difficult to pin down.

Throughout the beginning part of the movie, we are also treated to a collection of small scenes detailing an ambulance talking about a man with some kind of infectious disease that they found. These paramedics come into the hospital seeking help for the infected victim. Dr. Akiba, who is sort of the main character of the movie and the doctor who admitted error with the burn victim (in the scene after this), turns them away, which will have dire consequences on the rest of the movie. Again, burn victim dies from medical error, and then the chief nurse goes down to check the ER, only to find the infectious disease victim still there, the ambulance gone.

This is when the movie gets strange. Dr. Akai, the director of the hospital, has a collection of scenes being very adamant about studying the disease. His scenes are shocking in a way because of the way he acts. He is always stone-faced (except once), and he is filmed with some kind of filter, a green one, I believe, that leaves him looking washed-out and creepy. The victims organs are shown to be liquefying as well, but the person is still very much alive and coherent, even smiling at the doctors.

The movie rushes on, now being both confusing and disjointed, showing more a focus on horror than story. The nurse, four of them, die horrifically one-by-one, each taken out by the green infection starting from the chief nurse getting infected by the initial victim (whose body disappears) to each one of the others getting infected by one another, I believe. Parts of this movie can be confusing, which is why I'm kind of wondering myself what happened at times. Eventually, Dr. Uozumi, one of the lead characters, is also infected, and shown speaking to a person he had once killed accidentally. This incident cements the meaning of this movie and the infection to basically being something like guilt.

Dr. Akiba is told from the dead Akai (because Akai was the burn victim all along) that the infection is transmitted through the subconscious mind rather than through the air or by touch. This means that they were all infected in turn by the guilt they felt over the death of the patient or the way they treated someone else or how they screwed up medically once. Over this whole part of the film, and maybe I didn't catch every instance of this, but what it seems like is that the movie has the green film over it at times, showing some kind of alternate world... maybe even the mirror world where ghosts are still living as the old woman patient seems to imply many times.

The psychological elements show up near the end, as Dr. Akiba looks through a mirror and sees his blood as green blood, rather than the red blood he has in real life. And as a female doctor enters the hospital in the morning light, the awful truth is learned. The doctors and the nurses are all dead, no longer with the green blood and bile, but rather with red blood covering them, obviously killed by someone. Akiba (and the Pediatrician who wants to be a surgeon) are guilty of the crimes (at least in the eyes of the law).

And the film ends with the insanity of the final female doctor, Dr. Nakazono, after she signs off a boy from the beginning of the movie whose brain was bleeding, thus showing her the green blood world and her own infection. And then the boy with the fox mask shows up again, probably implying something with him, although I have no idea what. As an added thing, Akai, in Japanese, means red. Which probably has some meaning. Perhaps Dr. Akai was never real, more an implied person standing in for the real world or the infection. The final scene is Dr. Akiba, shut in the locker that kept opening earlier in the movie in the room they were trying to speed-decay the burn victim's corpse. His arm falls off with green blood attached. He is fully infected.

As a last point, there are some seriously scary moments to this movie, particularly the background scares that linger. Some of those moments were great visuals and left an impact on me. It will be hard to forget that chief nurse standing on the cot in the background of a single shot, her face as white as paper, knowing what will come next, and being unable to do a thing about it. Great direction all around, really showcasing the horrific elements of the story.

Oh man. This movie is both complex and very confusing at times. There are a great many details throughout the film, the blink-and-you'll-miss-them type of details. Honestly, this is a movie where a second viewing might be required just being of the complexity of detail. I would say that infection is all about guilt and that the infection attacks the guilty part of one's mind. Beyond that, I have no idea what this movie is. It's an effective horror movie, one with really bad editing, but great cinematography and direction. The acting is perfectly fine, although I wouldn't say anybody was particularly awesome in their role. It's a movie I would recommend as a horror movie for J-Horror fans. This movie is certainly not for everybody though, and I feel that to some it might be more frustrating and confusing than frightening. I liked it quite a bit, but also feel that it is far from perfect, particularly in its disjointed nature and focus on nothing at times. Check it out if you want an interesting little Japanese Horror movie. Just remember that it's all over the place in quality.

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